Before arriving in Cape Town, I was told that a trip to South Africa wasn’t complete without a visit to Kruger National Park. After much deliberation, my friends and I decided to take advantage of our rare three day weekend and journey up to one of the best reserves on the continent. We prepared ourselves for the beauty of the weekend by watching the New Lion King at the Labia Theatre, which I highly recommend!
Waking up bright and early on Friday morning, we grabbed our backpacks and headed to the airport. For reference, Kruger National Park borders Mozambique in northeastern South Africa, so we flew to Johannesburg and from there drove about 5 hours north. Our travel time consisted of us gushing about all the animals we were going to see. Kruger is home to the Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos - called the ‘Big Five’ because they are the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.
Instead of staying in a hotel, we decided to stay in huts on a smaller park called the Motlala Game Reserve. To my surprise, there were monkeys, mongoose, and antelope wandering around the campsite. Our hosts also told us that the game reserve was home to cheetahs, rhinos, and leopards - among other animals. We were warned that a leopard often frequents the campgrounds, so they told us to back away slowly, as opposed to running, if we saw it. Because the bedrooms were separate from our bathrooms and showers, needless to say, I was a little on edge every time I had to walk in the dark!
Friday, our first night, consisted of a sunset drive through the park, where we saw antelopes, buffalos, and giraffes. After finding a nice little centipede over my bed, we all spent a solid 20 minutes tucking in our bug nets. We went to bed early that night, tired from our day of travel and excited for our full day at Kruger. We were told that leopards, cheetahs, and rhinos were extremely rare, but we went into the day with our eyes peeled and our fingers crossed.
To my complete and utter surprise, we actually ended up seeing the Big 5! I knew lions weren’t as rare as some of the other animals we saw, but the rangers keep track of daily sightings and we ended up being one of the only groups to see the lions - which was really awesome! It was so surreal seeing how well the animals camouflaged into the scenery. If someone didn’t tell me where to look, there is no way I would have spotted anything. Our whole safari group lucked out, because one of my friends, Danny, brought his really nice camera. With his camera he was able to get some really detailed shots of the animals.
We spent our Saturday night laying outside watching shooting stars and talking with our new friends we met on the safari. It was one of the most relaxing moments of my trip, even though in the back of my head, I was thinking about the campground leopard. Our weekend safari ended with a 6am bush walk through the grounds, where our ranger educated us on plants/wildlife and told us stories about growing up in the bush.
Overall, I would not trade my short trip to Kruger for anything. We were extremely lucky to have seen the animals we did and we met a great group of safari friends in the process. I can now vouch that a trip to South Africa is not complete without a trip to Kruger!